- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 5, 2003

Amy Tubbs is watching the Caribbean Sea from the comfort of her bedroom in Alexandria. Since Miss Tubbs, owner of Murals by Amy, can't stand staring at a white wall, she decided to paint the area beside her bed with a beach scene. Looking out an imaginary double-paned window, she can see the sun glisten on the water.
"It will help me sleep at night," she says. "I will think of palm trees and warm sand."
Like other types of artwork, murals large images that are applied directly to a wall or ceiling can improve the decor of a home. The scenes give depth to a room, often fooling the eye into believing a setting exists beyond the walls of the house.
In some instances, murals give the illusion that an entire room exists. For instance, Peter Waddell, owner of Peter Waddell and Associates in Northwest, created a view of a 19th-century conservatory in Bel Air Mansion in Bowie. The room is revealed when a door in the dining room is opened on a wall with a mural.
Originally, this door led to a conservatory with orange trees. Since the room no longer exists, his mural serves as its representation. To design the painting, he used an antique drawing of the exterior of the house and an old letter that provided a written description of the room.
Deceiving the eye is an artistic tradition called "trompe l'oeil" that dates to ancient Greece. Artists portray objects with extreme realism and the illusion of depth.
"It's curiously stimulating, being deceived," Mr. Waddell says. "It makes you look at everything carefully. There's a confusion between what's real and what's not real. People usually don't pay attention most of the time. There's something enjoyable about being woken up and being forced into the moment."

To capture the attention of the viewer, the same care and detail applied to any traditional work of art is given to a mural. Although Miss Tubbs uses the walls of a home as her canvas, she receives inspiration from artists such as Thomas Moran, best known for the panoramic views of the American West he painted in the 1870s. Miss Tubbs also appreciates the work of Henri Matisse, one of the most influential painters of the 20th century.
Miss Tubbs, who received a bachelor of arts degree in studio arts from Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Va., also creates portraits and other paintings in pastel, oil or watercolor. Her most recent work can be seen throughout Chevy Chase Pavilion in Northwest, a commercial complex of shops, offices and hotel. She also exhibits regularly at Arts on the Avenue, an October street festival in the Del Ray section of Alexandria.
However, most of Miss Tubbs' work appears throughout the homes of her clients. Prospective customers can view her work on her Web site, www.muralsbyamy.net, which features a gallery of her murals. She has completed scenes of various settings, such as the Chesapeake Bay, outer space, castles, a racetrack, and a Mediterranean cafe. Depending on the size of the project, the cost ranges from $300 to $1,000.
"You try to create a real image, to make it look like that's where you are," she says.
Miss Tubbs, 25, started her business in 1999 when a friend asked her to paint a nursery. Since then, she has adorned nurseries, playrooms, kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms and foyers. Customers usually take their time deciding the details of the murals.
"I try to convince people visually and give them a sketch," she says. "If you don't like it, you can just paint over it. It's not like you're knocking a wall down."

When Mandy Palmer of Clifton designed the nursery for her 6-month-old daughter, Megan, Mrs. Palmer asked Miss Tubbs to depict Noah's Ark in the bedroom. Mrs. Palmer wanted something other than wallpaper to brighten the room.
"Every morning, my husband, Chris, picks Megan up so she can look at the animals," Mrs. Palmer says. "She likes to smile at the rabbits and the tigers."
The creativity of a mural makes an otherwise useless space a focal point of a home, says Dara Adams of Montgomery Village. Miss Tubbs transformed her bathroom by painting butterflies on the walls. She says this design matches the rest of the house, which also features quotations painted on the wall and faux paint, a style of decorative painting that evokes a texture or design.
"I've had people I don't know come over with friends just to see my bathroom," she says.

Although most murals are painted inside the home, sometimes the scenes also can be placed outside a house. For instance, structures such as an old shed, a garage door or a fence could come to life when painted with a creative scene.
Once, Mr. Waddell painted a mural of a woman looking down from a balcony. This scene appears on the outside of a house, where wood was placed over an unused window. Since the wood covered the window, he used the surface as his canvas. The woman in the mural gazes into the garden next to the house. People who drive by the house occasionally think the woman is real.
In addition to being used on the outside of the home, murals also can be designed to be transported from one place to another. Some customers don't want to invest in a mural because it usually becomes a permanent part of the home. However, this obstacle can be overcome.
Mr. Waddell is currently creating a view of Paris, in his studio on pieces of wood for Rhona Wolfe Friedman of Northwest. When the mural is finished, it will be mounted on the wall in Mrs. Friedman's home.
She will be able to take the mural with her if she moves. The mural is designed for the landing of her staircase, which is a frequently traveled part of the house. She requested the work be placed at this part of the home because visitors will see it as soon as they enter through the front door.
"It gives an illusion of more space," she says. "When you look at it, you feel like you are somewhere else."

Designers can add their own touches. Designer Sarah Jenkins, owner of Sarah Boyer Jenkins and Associates in Chevy Chase, Md., says that in addition to an artist's painting an original mural on a wall, hand-painted wallpaper can be used for similar effects.
One of her favorite companies making the material is Charles R. Gracie & Sons of New York. Their products can be purchased at the Rist Corporation Showroom in the Washington Design Center in Southwest. The wallpaper comes as a continuous picture, and artists will adjust it to fit the dimensions of any room.
Hand-painted murals on a screen are another option, Mrs. Jenkins says. She likes to place them between the dining room and the kitchen to disguise the activity taking place in the kitchen. Screens also can separate a bedroom from a dressing room.
Whatever type of mural a person chooses, it expands the space in a home in an aesthetically pleasing manner.
"It's something that is not used every day because it's a luxury treatment," she says, "but when the client doesn't have that kind of consideration, it's something that works very well."

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